Paramount Pictures

The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2016

The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2016


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A great film scene has the ability to function, regardless of length, as its own self-contained short. Of course, such a scene has the benefit of being subtextually and thematically richer within the context of the film it hails from, but divorced of that context, it can still provide its own unique pleasures. This year saw no shortage of exemplary flourishes of cinematic bliss, from the technical, workmanlike precision of the Miracle on the Hudson crash in Sully to Ralph Fiennes’s flamboyant expression of musical euphoria in A Bigger Splash. Those and the 18 other scenes listed below all have the common thread of being able to be enjoyed as their own mini works of art—and some, in fact, are far richer than the films that contain them. Wes Greene

The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2016

Aquarius, Termite Revenge

Clara (Sonia Braga), the last remaining tenant in a building hounded by slimy developers, arrives at their headquarters at the end of Aquarius with a cryptic suitcase in tow. Even if we foresee its contents, it’s impossible not to be overcome with vindictive joy when Clara throws it on the boardroom table and reveals the same colony of termites that the developers had used to push her out of her home. The fact that the last person standing in a building besieged by the “silent destroyers” is a female cancer survivor, like overthrown president Dilma Rousseff, completes the allegory for present-day Brazil. More than the turning of the infested colony against the infesting colonizers, the termites ultimately amount to the simplest of mirrors. What other way for coup mongers to come face to face with their own vileness? Diego Semerene

The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2016

Arrival, First Contact

Denis Villeneuve is a patient and fetishistic director, lingering in Arrival on the looming abstraction of the alien spacecraft, adding one layer of surreality upon another: the violation of new gravity, the vastness of the ship’s internal, irrationally vertical angularity, and, finally, the gorgeous and frightening poetry of the squid-like aliens themselves. The numerous grace notes cumulatively serve to make aliens in pop culture alien again. Chuck Bowen

A Bigger Splash, “Emotional Rescue”

A Bigger Splash is built on Ralph Fiennes’s irresistible performance as Harry Hawkes, a record producer who lives both in and on his past. Harry’s invasive evasiveness reaches its crescendo during a glorious sing-and-dance number, in which he revels in his desperate, sexy neediness, reminding us that the Rolling Stones did some pretty great songs in their disco period. Bowen

The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2016

Cameraperson, The Boxer

Kristen Johnson’s personal documentary Cameraperson offers revelatory insight on what it’s like to be behind the camera, capturing human drama in real time without interfering with how the action plays out. In one long scene, which follows a Golden Gloves boxer from his devastating loss to a locker room outburst to an unlikely conversation with his mother, Johnson portrays a complete and captivating mini-narrative that’s also quietly about the threatened, thrilled woman behind the frame. Christopher Gray

The 20 Best Film Scenes of 2016

Certain Women, Horse Ride

A charged counterpoint to Certain Women’s numerous scenes of vehicular commute, Lily Gladstone and Kristen Stewart’s nocturnal horse ride to a lonely diner is staged with just a few exacting ingredients: the hum of the Montana wind, the clack of the hooves on the pavement, and a backlit tracking shot that distills the film’s various strands of melancholy—the longing for simpler times, the desire to connect with another person, the inability to express one’s full self—into a single, aching, iconic image. Carson Lund